'TIS THE season, you know.
The season of Thanksgiving, Christmas shopping and Notre Dame following.
Happens every year around this time. Because the Fighting Irish are bowl partners with the Big East, fans of the conference's teams suddenly remember the setup, hop on their computers and punch up Notre Dame's record. If it's worthy of a bowl, there is outcry.
Well, this year the leprechauns of Brian Kelly are 5-5. They need one win to qualify for a bowl. They play host to 6-4 Army Saturday before visiting USC, now 7-3, to complete the regular season. Notre Dame is an 8-1/2 point favorite against the Black Knights this week.
I can hear the groans now from New York state to Tampa, Fla. If your team doesn't win the Big East title and, thus, the league's BCS bowl berth, it will tumble past Orlando's Champs Sports Bowl and into the Meineke Car Care Bowl, aka the Tire Bowl, or below.
(All together now.)
Every bowl wants Notre Dame.
Fear not, though, Big East acolytes. The Champs Sports Bowl will almost certainly go to a league team, and if WVU wins a couple more games, it, with such a strong bowl following, will be a very strong contender.
Here's the deal: The Big East champ goes to a BCS bowl, most likely the Fiesta Bowl, which has the last at-large pick, against the Big 12 champ (think Nebraska, Oklahoma or Oklahoma State). After that, the Orlando bowl gets the pick. Then you get into the land of Meineke, New Era Pinstripe, BBVA Compass, Beef O'Brady's and AutoZone Liberty bowls.
The Champs Sports Bowl can grab Notre Dame instead of a Big East team once every four years. Unlike some past bowl contracts, there is no two-win separation rule.
So, you reason, that points to the Champs grabbing the Irish, right?
"No,'' said bowl CEO Steve Hogan on Tuesday. "The only way we'd look at a 6-6 Notre Dame team is if the other available Big East teams are 6-6.
"We're hoping for a nine-game or eight-game winner. I don't see any possible way we'd take a 6-6 [Notre Dame] team. Obviously, if they run the table, they'd be on our board at 7-5. But Syracuse, South Florida and West Virginia all have the chance to get nine wins.
"We really like to look at a team that deserves to be there."
Refreshing, no? OK, OK. But here's where I must tell the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say. According to Big East associate commissioner John Paquette, Notre Dame has to be 7-5 in order to play in the bowl. He says it's in the contract.
Kind of spoils this from Hogan.
"At 6-6 we're not going to take them regardless of who they are," he said of the Irish. "It doesn't matter if it's Notre Dame, West Virginia, Syracuse or anybody. We want a winning team in Orlando."
Regardless of the 7-5 rule, though, it really did sound like Hogan wants the best available team. It didn't sound like other bowl presidents I've interviewed that almost drooled over the Irish.